It's not just you: Many employees who shifted to working from home are putting in longer hours compared to pre-pandemic times.
A new study from Nature Human Behavior found that remote workers spent 10% longer logged in each week. That would be the equivalent of an additional four or more hours weekly for someone with a normal 40-hour workweek. It's a concerning trend, considering that longer workweeks are likely to lead to exhaustion, burnout, and increased turnover.
The study examined the habits of 61,182 Microsoft employees from December 2019 to June 2020, by aggregating data from their emails, DMs, calendars and calls. By noting their first work activity and last activity of the day, researchers found employees’ time spent 'on the job' increased.
Other work-from-home studies conducted during the pandemic have shown similar results. Earlier this year a study of more than 10,000 companies found remote workers in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and Austria were spending an extra 2.5 hours each day chugging away at work tasks than before the pandemic.
According to a survey done at the end of 2020, 45% of people who shifted to remote work because of the pandemic said they were working more than they were before. Even more alarming, 75% said they were working on weekends. Parents and those under 40 were more likely to report working longer hours.
Work from home vs. office
The pandemic has changed American work habits, with nearly a third of U.S. employees shifting to working from home in the late winter and spring of 2020. It is likely to take years for American work life to shift back, and "the office" may never look like it did pre-pandemic, with nearly all employees heading into crowded workplaces on a daily basis. In some cases, video meetings and more flexible office cultures may be here to stay.
Even though working from home is associated with longer hours, many employees prefer it to going into the office. Nearly 80% of adults in a recent survey say they would like to work from home at least once per week, and almost 40% say they would quit or look for a new job if their employer tries to force them to go back into an office full-time. Highly-educated women with young children in particular felt strongly about working from home five days per week.
What's more, it's not entirely clear that remote employees who are logged in for more hours are actually working more. “The increase in workweek hours could be an indication that employees were less productive and required more time to complete their work, or that they replaced some of their commuting time with work time,” the Nature Human Behavior researchers wrote. It could also mean workers are taking more “breaks or interruptions for non-work activities.”
Commutes in particular are a big time-saver for remote workers. The average U.S. worker's commute hit a new high of more than 27 minutes each way in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
While more than a third of Americans were working from home in the spring of 2020, only 13.4% were still cooped up on the couch with their laptop last month. That’s still significantly more than the estimated 5% that worked from home for at least 3 days per week before the pandemic.